This story was written following the following prompt on Reedsy.
Write a story that takes place in a writer’s circle.
All I wanted was readers.
I’m a writer, whatever that word means, but I have no credited readers. I have no way of knowing whether I have any writing skills or if I’m just a man who likes to be cuddled by the magic that the word “writer” brings.
I started writing when I was very young, and I spent a good deal of my teenage years preferring the company of books to that of human beings. When I stepped into the university, I had already written a book and was on my way to conclude my second novel. Writing and being published was my number one goal and I felt like that desire put me in a superior position when compared to my peers.
Since then, I contacted many publishing houses, of course, but all I have ever received were locked doors and “no thank you”. The only readers I’ve ever had are my mom and my boyfriend. Their feedback is positive, of course, but I know better than to trust their judgment.
When I got the idea of the book circle, I was a little over thirty and employed in a 9 to 5 job as a marketing and communication manager. I liked my job and I was very good at it, but that did not move me one inch towards reaching my life’s ambition. I still had no publishing contract but got plenty of doubts about my capabilities of putting down words in a decent way. I felt like I failed my dreamy 17-year-old self because I had not been able to realize his dream. I most definitely had a writer’s block and still counted on the sole opinion of the two readers I previously mentioned.
I felt miserable and hence decided to create my own audience: a book-club and a creative writing circle. It all started out with a short message on a filthy piece of paper that I hung on the library’s bulletin board. Again, I had my mother’s and my boyfriend’s approval, but, just as with my books, I completely lacked the sufficient confidence in my idea to trust that someone would show up to the first meeting in the local teahouse named “The Hut” that I selected as a meeting spot.
In the announcement, I said I was looking for people that shared my passion for books and writing but I was lying. As you probably understood, I was looking for readers to finally praise my stories. I was looking for approval.
You can, therefore, imagine my anxiety as I sat there, all wrapped up in my purple Burberry trench coat waiting for someone, anyone, to arrive.
It was half-past six when a 70-something, put-together but maternal lady showed up. She was dressed in all shades of beige and she carried a large-flowered bag. Her cognac-and-white hair was neatly pulled up in a chignon above her head. Her lips were sealed in an embarrassed smile, but her blue eyes were expressing the same longing I felt in the deepest corner of my heart.
“Darling,” she said in a mellifluous yet caring voice, “are you here for the book club?”
I nodded amazed.
“Good.” She sat in front of me, pulled out of her purse a block notes and a stylographic pen, and waited for me to make my move. I, on the other hand, so absorbed in my desire to be read, had only brought the printed copies I had of my books and not even thought about bringing a pen. I guess that is the first lesson Annarita taught me: to be a good writer you first have to be a good listener.
That evening it was only me and her at “The Hut” so, to break the ice, we started talking about the last book we had read and amazingly, incredibly, found out that despite the difference in age, 70 and 32, diverse sexual orientation, straight and gay, different occupation, manager and housewife, her soul and mine were made of the same substance.
Me and Annarita met alone for many Wednesdays and for many meetings our writing skills stayed silent. Gradually as our trust grew, we became comfortable in baring our deepest self to one another and speak about our works. Thus, arrived the second lesson form Annarita: you don’t have to study literature to be a good writer.
She married at 18 to a man who had always forbid her to pursue a career or working in general. Annarita quickly understood that her life with such a husband was on track to be a complete nightmare. Yet, not long after the wedding, she got pregnant, and little after giving birth to her first child she became pregnant with another, and soon after with yet another. By the time her fourth son was born, she knew that she had no way out of that marriage. The only way Annarita had to escape was reading a lot and writing. Her passion for books was public, but writing was something she kept to herself.
Now widowed, Annarita found the courage to approach the book club and read her works out loud.
When she started reading, I felt mesmerized for I could not believe that a woman with such a past could be capable of writing with such style. Her writing was blunt yet very vivid and figurative. Her stories were very diverse in themes but always left you hopeful. I had always hated being read for I got easily distracted but with Annarita’s works it was impossible to skip even a comma. She created a world with words, and she kept you, prisoner, as long as she liked.
I felt even more miserable because I realized that my writing skills were awful compared to hers and that I would have never reached such a level of perfection. Annarita was not of the same opinion. She liked my works and she supported me when I felt down.
After a couple of months, our duo grew to a trio with the arrival of Claudio. For the strange rule that the more people join the more people you attract, after Claudio, came many more.
I was finally getting what I originally wanted. All the newcomers were excited by my prose, they adored me and my take on life but that did not bring me the joy I had hoped. Claudio and the others were weak writers, I perfectly knew that. I was being appraised by people who probably didn’t know any better. As to make things worse, Annarita, probably crushed and embarrassed by the crowd, stopped writing. She came to meetings and gave her wise advice but the amazing stories that I had enjoyed so much when it was only the two of us disappeared.
One day, fourteen months after my adventure started, Annarita did not show up to the meeting. It was the very first time she skipped a meeting without warning. Although everything flowed perfectly that late afternoon, I was unsettled by her absence and had the awkward feeling that something must have happened.
Annarita died on January 13th, 2010. She had just walked out of her house to come to “The Hut” when a car hit her right on the zebra crossing. There was ice on the pavement of the road and the driver just lost control of the vehicle. There was nothing nobody could have done.
Her death crushed me as well. I wondered what the meaning of life was and for many days found nothing as an answer. “The Hut” book club and writing circle met for the last time the Wednesday after her funeral and then died just like its silent yet fundamental column.
I visited Annarita’s grave often and it was during one of those visits that I met her first son. I felt like he was waiting for me. He came near and he handed me his mother’s famous flowered bag.
“She wanted you to have this with all its content.” Said Paolo. “She forbade us to check the content. It’s all up to you.” He concluded then left the cemetery.
I stood there in front of the tomb that Annarita shared with her much-hated husband with the purse in my hands, shaking.
At home, I left the bag in the deepest corner of my wardrobe for many days before finding the strength to open it. Inside it, there were many papers all written in her neat calligraphy.
A post-it on top of the biggest parcel wrote: “Make it public”. My heart thudded as I read the first page. It was written in third person, but I knew that Annarita was the protagonist.
I looked around and decided that my home was not the right place to read her story, so I left for “The Hut”.
I sat in our writing circle usual corner, far from the noisy crowd, and started reading out loud. I didn’t care about what others thought, hearing my voice tell her story made it seem like Annarita was still there. The novel narrated the adventure of a girl who liked girls but was trapped in the most cliché marriage of all. Eventually, the protagonist found the strength to fall in love with a woman from her village but always lived her pure love as a sin and as a betrayal not only to her husband but to the idea her parents had of her.
I realized, while crying, that this was probably one of the reasons me and Annarita felt so alike.
“The story is really touching.” I heard a woman say from the table nearby. “Did you write it?”
I looked at the speaker without understanding, without even replying.
The woman stood up and handed me a business card. “I have a meeting in five minutes but please send me the novel saying you’re the guy from “The Hut”.” She explained then left.
I stared at the card with my heart up the throat.
The woman, Isabel Cooper, was an editor for one of the best publishing houses in the country.
Finally, someone had heard me, although I was speaking with a voice that wasn’t mine.
I dwelled a lot to decide whether it was correct to make Annarita’s story my own, she wanted to make it public, after all. In the end, I guess that my teenage ambition got the best of me for not only I sent the novel to Miss Cooper but never mentioned Annarita ever again.
I never said her name when they asked me the inspiration for such a heartbreaking story, not once hinted at her when I replied to interviews or presentations.
I must admit that sometimes I feel ashamed but the novels I published after Annarita’s were just as successful, although everyone was surprised by the complete change in style.
I got the readers I wanted. I got the approval I wanted.
You may say I’m a liar, but I just omitted part of my life’s story, mixed the cards on the table, rewrote what I didn’t like about my life like every good writer should be able to do.
In some way, I made it up to Annarita though. With the proceedings from our book, I bought “The Hut”, placed a photo of her inside just above our favorite corner, and founded another writing circle. In her honor.